Great sports memories are one of the sweetest things in the world. They just never go away, no matter what happens afterwards. Remembering where you were when a player did something legendary. This past week, I was asked about my favorite live Cardinals game experience, so let's go back to July 28, 2002.
Let me properly set the scene, flipping the page to the best part of this book. Busch Stadium II was half-empty. The Chicago Cubs were up 9-4 on the St. Louis Cardinals entering the bottom of the ninth inning, the white arches at the top starting to welcome in the dawn light. Hope wasn't lost, but it was fleeting.
Up on the Manual Scoreboard. Jim Kleinschmidt and myself were the only workers left. The board was mostly full of final scores, so Jimmy and I gathered for the final frame behind the Cardinals board. We didn't expect much. A fog had hung over the team, fanbase, and stadium since a Friday afternoon changed the season.
Five weeks before, Darryl Kile had passed away unexpectedly, dropping an anchor of sadness into the clubhouse that nobody could move. It didn't help that Hall of Fame voice Jack Buck had also passed away in June. A great record simply wasn't enough. While the Cardinals had 58 wins before the start of August, a doom and gloom hung over Busch during that period. The team needed a jolt. Edgar Renteria would give them the rise they needed, but not before a Chicago beatdown commenced at the 7:10 start time.
Matt Morris was jumped for six earned runs in only four innings of work. The right-handed pitcher took Kile's death extremely hard and hadn't been right since. He lost a teammate, brother, and mentor all in one fateful day in Chicago. Facing the team for the first time since that fateful weekend. he didn't have it. The bullpen wasn't much better, allowing four runs in six innings of work, but it allowed the bats to go to work.
The Cubs put a damper on a four run Cardinal sixth inning rally with two in the seventh off Steve Kiline and a run off Dave Veres in the eighth.
Antonio Alfonseca had an extra finger on his pitching hand, but it didn't matter. Fernando Vina slapped a cueball shot for a single to start the inning and Miguel Cairo, pinch hitting for Veres, doubled in Vina to bring the score to 9-5. Jim Edmonds made it more real with another double, bringing in Cairo. Suddenly, the game was in reach.
Alfonseca wanted no part of Albert Pujols, so the young #5 was walked to get to J.D. Drew, who promptly struck out looking. Tino Martinez may have been a disappointment when looking at his time in St. Louis as a whole, but he laced a line drive single to drive in Edmonds to make it 9-7.
With Pujols at third base and Martinez standing on first representing the tying run (but not being pinch ran for), Edgar Renteria came to the plate.
Renteria came to the Cardinals a World Series hero, driving in the game winning run for the then Florida Marlins against the Cleveland Indians in 1997. But he didn't really flourish until landing in St. Louis, where he collected double digit home runs totals in six straight seasons and sprayed 30+ doubles five different times. An adept shortstop in the field, Renteria was oddly underrated among Cardinals fans.
The scoreboard crew gave him a hard time. Renteria like to double and triple clutch before he threw the ball to first base and didn't always hustle. A gingerly playing vibe made him a target for game time jabs, but throughout his career, he was money in big moments.
Facing Alfonseca, Kleinschmidt and I had been exhausted before this inning began, but it's like a surge of energy had passed through our bodies. Along with the 10,000 people in the stands, we thought something special might happen. The Cubs were among the worst teams in the National League, carrying 44 wins into the July evening. Still, coming from behind to beat the Cubs was like an extra fourth of July in St. Louis.
Renteria hit the second pitch Alfonseca threw him into the seats behind the Cubs bullpen, clearing the bases and bringing the Cardinals a highly improbable 10-9 win over the rival Cubs. It felt like Christmas, birthdays, and the World Series in Busch at that moment. When a less than full stadium screams at their lungs, it sounds like a person with a cold trying to shout, but the feeling was special as Renteria gingerly (that's just his style) ran around the bases. A Sunday night game ended after three hours and 39 minutes with ESPN's Jon Miller reciting Jack Buck's (who had also passed the previous June) memorable line, "go crazy, folks, go crazy".
Alfonseca stood on the mound for a few minutes after the blast, wondering who stole his 9-4 lead and certain ride home bliss. It was like he watched a movie called 'If everything could go wrong, here's what it would look like' was playing in his head. It was over, but he couldn't handle it.
Kleinschmidt and I got emotional on the board for a few reasons. First, we were both heart on our shoulder guys and being the only two bodies up on the board-and seeing something that special was just a heartfelt moment for us. Second, the deaths of Kile and Buck had hit the scoreboard guys hard, so a happy ending was just right. We each saw Kile's last game on a pitching mound and still hadn't shaken off the chill of his untimely death.It didn't last long, but the emotion was palpable as we each had a hand on the #6 square piece as it slid into the ninth inning slot on the board. Six in the ninth! The feeling was unreal.
These were the kind of nights where leaving the stadium was hard. The team slowly departed to the clubhouse and the fans took their celebration to the ramps that wrapped all the way around Busch 2. All the while, Jimmy and I walked outside the board and stood outside the rafters, next to the retired numbers and World Series seasons.
When you watch every single home game and spend five hours at the ballpark per day on a homestand, you become connected to the guys on the board like people thrown onto a six month bus ride together. We all weren't best friends, but we shared a lot of time together for eight summers. I'll never forget that July night.
I'll never forget standing behind the board, watching the Cards pull a fast one on the Cubs on a hot summer night at the old Busch. It shouldn't have happened, but it did, and I got to experience it with one of the best guys I know. You see, long before I published a column on KSDK News' website, Jimmy was the one who told me I had a gift for writing. I'd print out stories I had written at home (Bud Smith's no hitter, the need for Armando Benitez in red), and the guys read them. Jimmy told me to keep writing.
So when I think about July 28th fifteen years ago, it's a special moment. Watching the Cards shock the Cubs with my friend. The Cards would lose to the San Francisco Giants that fall, failing to get to the World Series. They'd reach the Fall Classic the next year, but wouldn't win it with Tony La Russa until 2006, the first year without the manual scoreboard in center.
Sometimes, the greatest moments aren't playoff winners or historical at bats. David Freese hitting a walkoff Game 6 winner against Texas or Adam Wainwright getting Brandon Inge to whiff on a cutter leave a required dent, but the signature moments sometimes lie elsewhere.
For Jimmy and I back in 2002, it was Edgar Renteria doing something amazing under the radar. July 28, 2002 was my favorite live Cardinals game experience.
A special hat tip to Chris Scott for asking a great question.
Thanks for reading this overlong article.